Fundraising using social media - lessons from 52 Lives

I’ve often thought that many fundraisers don’t engage audiences on Facebook as well as they could. But I've never found any amazing examples to demonstrate what's possible. That was until Friday, when I met Jaime Thurston at a Charity Comms event in Bristol...


Facebook audiences are busy. They’re mobile. They’re eating lunch. They are likely to be watching the funniest cat video EVER!!!!!! LOL! So it’s tough to get your 10 seconds of attention, especially when you’re asking for donations.


That’s why every charity fundraiser should take notice of Jaime Thurston and what she’s achieving at 52 Lives.


52 lives is a wonderful charity, with a single minded proposition. Help 52 people every year. One person every week. The idea came to Jaime after she read a request online from a single mum who needed rugs to protect her children's feet from a broken floor she couldn’t afford to repair. 


52 Lives' social media followers help people in the darkest or most challenging times: with everything from prams to cars, and theatre trips to hospital taxis, and laptops to home improvements.


Since launching in November 2013, 52 Lives has grown into a global giving network of 100,000 people who follow weekly requests on Facebook, Twitter, or via email. 


In July 2015 Jaime appeared on Surprise Surprise. This national spotlight changed her project overnight. The day after her appearance, she woke up to over 150,000 social media notifications. Since then the social giving and random acts of kindness project has gone from strength to strength and gained international recognition.


 “52 Lives has touched many more lives than just those of the people it helps each week. Jaime has given people around the world the chance to help others who are less fortunate. Household items many of us take for granted and small donations when they are put together really can change a life."                      
Prime Minister David Cameron

You can read an in-depth interview with Jaime on the Huffington Post.


So how can 52 Lives launch a new and successful appeal every week?

It's little and often. it's micro-payments. Followers control where their money goes. Most importantly, it's immediate and rewarding. Goals can be reached within a couple of days, and often are.

I believe this mixture increases the potential for giving, making it straightforward and accessible to everyone online, especially the fast paced Facebook and Twitter environments.


People will always have personal preferences and individual motivations on who they support, but as you can see, 52 Lives help individuals in very different ways, that people can connect to.

Here are just a few of the lives the charity is helping to change through its work:

Very often requests are achieved or beaten, but sometimes larger funding targets aren’t always met within a week. But imagine the boost of knowing there are hundreds of strangers out there ready to help. It must be hugely motivating knowing so many people are on your side, no-matter what tough times you’re facing.

Clear, simple digital tools people use daily

52 lives parcels.PNG

When looking into the work of 52 Lives, I was really struck by how simple and personal the asks were. Amazon, Tesco and Toys-R-Us wish lists have all been used. Plus off the shelf tech from Just Giving and GoFundMe. 


Requests are very often small, practical and achievable. It empowers everyone to get involved in the cause and make it very personal.

Rather than a faceless text or credit card donation, you choose the gift to buy the child in need. When you click buy, you can imagine the delight of the child/parents when they receive it.

Nothing is taken for granted


Facebook page content is generally divided into: thanking (from Jaime and beneficiaries), updates, gift delivery photos and help asks. The Facebook group is reminded of the difference they are making over and over again. 

"In just 2 days we have hit the £900 target yet people are still donating to help these 3 beautiful children. They now have enough to buy the 3 seizure monitors. So much can be achieved when good people come together." Facebook update

Scroll through the updates and you get a feeling of a really supportive environment, where people are working together to help other individuals. 


Thanking is a huge part of their Facebook page, including photographs of the lives being changed and people enjoying the items they have been given.

“The updates and thank yous are so important – that’s something I’ve learnt over time. Our requests are very personal and our supporters love seeing what difference their help has made.” Jaime Thurston

Powerful social media community for change

Facebook engagement levels are really high. Key posts attract hundreds of Likes and shares. I believe the reason is this single mission to help someone every week and the personal connection with the charity's founder. 

•    2,700 Likes for the plasterer who helped repair a damaged wall for a mum with Breast Cancer (Life 96)
•    833 Likes and 58 shares of wedding photos and thanks for Ray and Sally’s wedding (Life 90)
•    231 Likes for Life #89 update on their new washing machine and Peppa Pig tickets
•    Thank you postcard from Life # 83 242 Likes


Top 10 learnings from the work of 52 Lives

All of this is being achieved by Jaime's vision/drive/energy, her assistant and thousands of online supporters.

There aren't any digital strategists, fundraising teams or major donor operations. I believe the secret to success is the understanding of people and their needs, compassion and the desire to help people in need. Social media is just the tool to deliver it. There's no politics or red tape. It's about the people. It's about Teresa, Kelly, Andrea....


1.    52 Lives uses powerful stories, including images and video
2.    Asks are simple and achievable in days, not months
3.    People have joined the group with the objective to help people. Followers expect to be asked to donate. Could other charities create dedicated Facebook giving groups where people expect to be asked?
4.    There is a fresh ask and challenge every week. Social media followers could be helping a family in Australia, a stranded refugee or someone local to them
5.    The requests for help are diverse and creative
6.    52 Lives embrace established digital tools: crowd funding platforms, wish lists, e-vouchers and traditional fundraising platforms, keeping digital overheads and development costs to a minimum.
7.    Even though there are only around four Facebook posts a week, Jaime answers as many questions and comments as possible, keeping engagement high
8.    The mobile responsive website, thanks to Blanc digital agency, gives a seamless experience to the thpousands of mobile Facebook users
9.    Very personal requests, replies and conversations
10.    52 Lives has built a group of passionate subscribers to the brand with the sole motivation of helping. They enjoy and embrace giving regularly to the charity.

Things to try?

There are always ways to improve online performance and engagement. Here are a couple of ideas 52 Lives could consider....

  1. The objective should be to make every piece of web content worth sharing and easy to share. Adding sharing links would be a simple job for the digital agency and would certainly increase reach. They have very shareable content, they just need to make it easy to do so. I'd also be tempted to add more email sign ups to help build the database.
  2. On Facebook and Twitter, I would be tempted to release appeals at the same time every week. But first, experiment with what's the best time to post. Many appeals are released at lunchtime, but it would be interesting to see if they would perform better after 8pm.... could be worth testing. A scheduling tool like Buffer could simplify this.
  3. I would also be tempted to tease people the day before about the life they're going to help change. 'Tomorrow lunchtime I'm going to tell you about [name], life #100, and her fight against [xxxx]. We are just finishing the wish list of items that will help change her life.". If graphics need creating, I can recommend Canva.

Next week 52 Lives will be helping change their 100th life. Do follow and watch what this charity does. We can all learn so much from 52 Lives.